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What is Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a condition common among women where excessive hair growth occurs in areas of the body in which terminal hair does not usually appear.

  • Hair growth among these women usually follows a male pattern of body hair – for example the growth of hair in the face, beard or chest area.
  • The condition may vary greatly among women.
  • Hair growth is usually fine and pale but may also grow coarse.
  • Hirsutism usually appears as a manifestation of an underlying disease condition especially if it develops after puberty has occurred.
  • Women are generally the ones affected by this condition. These women would usually tend to have increased levels of testosterone and other androgen hormones.
  • Androgen is the steroid hormone that stimulates male characteristics in an individual. An elevated level of androgen predisposes women to have excessive hair growth.

Causes of Hirsutism

The male hormone, androgen, is usually the culprit behind hirsutism. There are two course of actions in which androgen can cause hirsutism. The first one takes place when androgen levels are extremely elevated. On the other hand, oversensitivity of the hair follicles to androgen is the second factor that could lead to the condition.

Excessive production of androgen would increase hair follicle size, diameter and would usually quicken the hair growth phase. Hair and skin oiliness may also occur as a result of overproduction of androgen secretion. Also despite the excessive hair growth, hair loss in the scalp area occurs as overproduction of hair only takes place in androgen-sensitive regions like the sideburns in the face.

Certain conditions that may elevate a woman’s androgen levels include polycystic ovary syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing’s syndrome, acromegaly, ovarian tumors, certain medications and even obesity.

Signs and Symptoms of Hirsutism

  • Excessive hair growth in certain areas of woman’s face and body is the most obvious sign of hirsutism. It also usually follows male hair growth patterns. This means that hair growth usually takes place in areas common for hair growth among males like the beard, chest, face, and the areola. More advanced hirsutism would have hair growth on the upper back, sternum, the upper abdomen and on the shoulders.
  • Other telltale signs that a woman may be having hirsutism are when menstrual periods become irregular, acne attacks occur, the loss of feminine body shapes and usual secondary male characteristics like deepening of the voice, enlargement of the clitoris and broadening of the shoulders. These signs would usually be evident if hirsutism is primarily caused by hormonal imbalances.
  • However, if hirsutism is caused by an underlying medical disorder like Cushing’s syndrome, clinical manifestations may be different from a hormonal case. These signs and symptoms would include obesity, hypertension or elevated blood pressure and diabetes.

Who are at Risk for Hirsutism

The genetic makeup of an individual usually plays a role in inheriting hirsutism. South Asian and South and Middle European women are the races which have the most prevalent cases of hirsutism. The condition usually arises at the start of puberty and may continue to develop on if no proper treatment is undertaken.

How is Hirsutism Diagnosed

  • Physical assessment and a medical history are necessary to be able to diagnose and confirm hirsutism.
  • Menstrual cycles may need to be identified. Normal menstrual cycle patterns would usually indicate that the condition may be genetic. However, an irregular menstrual cycle would signify polycystic ovarian syndrome or some other underlying cause.
  • Blood workups may be required by the physician as well as other diagnostic tools like pelvic ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan. Blood tests would usually show elevated levels of androgen and testosterone. Meanwhile, ultrasound and other imaging studies would be necessary to identify cysts or tumors in the ovaries or adrenal glands.

Treatment for Hirsutism

Hirsutism is best managed by a physician. No amount of self-treatment or self-medication would relieve a person suffering from this condition. Women would usually find various ways of hair removal techniques to address this problem. But these treatments would not be addressing the real issue as the problem is not external but rather internal.

  • The use of Flutamide for a period of one year has been the most effective form of treatment among those affected by hirsutism. This should be done under the supervision of a doctor. For obese women, losing weight is vital as it will help in reducing androgen levels.
  • Home remedies for hirsutism would include drinking a cup of spearmint tea daily for 5 days. This has proven significant for women who had polycystic ovary syndrome as the underlying cause for hirsutism.
  • Surgical removal of tumors in the adrenals and ovaries will also be necessary if these would be the cause of hirsutism. In addition, psychological treatment may also be necessary especially for those experiencing frustration, embarrassment and low self-esteem.

Remedies for Hirsutism

  • Epilation or depilation can address the immediate problem of removing unwanted hairs. Shaving or trimming is probably the most common and convenient way of removing the excess hair. Chemical and commercially prepared depilatories are also available over the counter but they may irritate the skin. Waxing, sugaring and threading are also other ways to remove unwanted hair.
  • Laser hair removal could be another option but this could be impractical as not only is it expensive but hair growth would start appearing not long after the procedure as this does not address the root cause of hirsutism. Skin irritation could also result from this treatment so it would be best to seek a physician’s advice before going through with this procedure.

Hirsutism is a condition that is affecting a number of women. It used to be a stigma back in the days when excessive growth hair became unmanageable. But today hirsutism is no longer a problem and can be readily treated and managed under a physician’s direction. In addition, even if hirsutism is beyond a woman’s control, it is still necessary to avoid exposures to factors that may aggravate the condition.




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